Coping With a Loved One in Rehab

Why Your Encouragement and Support Is Important

Smiling man holding a door open for a woman

ONOKY - Eric Audras / Getty Images

Having any member of your family in rehab for drugs or alcohol means that you're inevitably facing and perhaps even struggling with a lot of concerns, questions and maybe some misconceptions about how professional treatment works.

Things to Keep in Mind

The following may answer some of those questions.

They're in Good Hands

First, relax and take a deep breath. Your family member is not being held against their will, and they are not locked up. Apparently, they had a substance abuse problem and have decided to get professional help. If that is the case, they are exactly where they need to be to get the help that they need.

They are in the hands of a staff of professionals, including medical and nursing personnel, who have received specialized training and education to help people who have alcohol or drug problems. They are also surrounded by peers who are or have been in the same situation that your family member is in and will provide an additional support system for them while they begins recovery.

Don't Take It Personally

Your family member is in a health care facility. Due to confidentiality concerns and federal privacy laws, the staff of the facility is prohibited from giving you any information about their situation. Your loved one will have to tell you themselves.

No, you cannot talk with them right now, but don't take it personally. In the early days of their rehab program, contact with the outside world will be highly restricted. They typically won't have access to media or the Internet either.

This is necessary so that they can concentrate on getting and staying sober with as few distractions or outside influences as possible. In the early hours and days of treatment, their entire focus needs to be on doing what they need to do to maintain abstinence.

Your Involvement Can Be Helpful

A point will come in your loved one's rehab when you are asked to become involved. Most professional alcohol and drug rehab programs include the family of the patient in the recovery process because research has shown that it reduces the risk of relapse.

Usually, during the first month of rehab, you will be invited to the treatment facility for a "family education program," or family day. During this time, you will be able to express your concerns, questions, experiences, and feelings related to your family member.

The Benefits of Family Involvement

Participation in the family workshop is beneficial in several ways:

  • It allows the rehab counselors to gain input from the family, observe how the family interacts and learn more about family dynamics.
  • It can encourage your loved one to continue with their treatment program knowing the family supports them.
  • It offers your family member an opportunity to learn how the entire family has been affected by their addiction.

What You Can Expect to Learn in Family Workshops

The primary purpose of involving you in the workshop is to provide you with information about the dynamics of alcoholism and addiction, and how family members can be affected by the substance abuse of others. The goal is to lessen the family's burden, increase helpful behaviors, and decrease any unhelpful behaviors.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following topics are commonly addressed during the family workshop:

  • An overview of substance abuse and dependence, including prevalence, symptoms, causes, and basic concepts.
  • Effects of substance use disorders on the individual, family system, and individual family members, including children.
  • Overview of recovery issues for the affected person (physical, psychological or emotional, social, family, spiritual and other) and how to measure outcomes.
  • How the family can help, including enabling behaviors for the family to avoid and behaviors that support your family member's recovery.
  • How a family member can heal from the adverse effects of involvement in a close relationship with a person with a substance use disorder.
  • Self-help programs for family members and how they can help.
  • Common warning signs of relapse, the importance of relapse prevention planning, how the family can be involved, and how to deal with an actual relapse.

Family Workshop Is Not Therapy

Although there are many benefits to attending a family educational workshop while your family member is in rehab, those sessions are not therapy. Many times these workshops will bring out strong feelings among family members, and they can become emotional. But from the treatment center's point of view, these sessions focus on support and education, not therapy.

Know When To Seek Help

The rehab program's purpose is helping the family member. If you feel that you or other family members have been psychologically or emotionally affected by your loved one's alcoholism or addiction, you will need to seek additional help on your own.

You can seek professional marriage counseling, family counseling, or individual therapy for yourself. For further support, you can participate in mutual support groups, such as Al-Anon or Naranon, and your children can participate in Alateen. Many family members of people with substance use disorders have found that joining an Al-Anon Family Group can be a positive, life-changing experience.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

You can also begin to educate yourself about alcoholism and addiction and how it can affect every member of the family. The more you know about the dynamics of a family affected by addiction, the more you will be able to offer your family member understanding and encouragement.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Baharudin D, Hussin A, Sumari M, Mohamed S, Zakaria Z, Sawai R. Family intervention for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addiction: An exploratory study. J Subst Use. 2013;19. doi:10.3109/14659891.2013.799239 

  2. Lyman DR, Braude L, George P, et al. Consumer and family psychoeducation: assessing the evidencePsychiatr Serv. 2014;65(4):416–428. doi:10.1176/

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Individual drug counseling approach to treat cocaine addiction: The collaborative cocaine treatment study model.

  4. Kourgiantakis T, Ashcroft R. Family-focused practices in addictions: a scoping review protocolBMJ Open. 2018;8(1):e019433. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019433

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.